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PROSPER WITH HONOR: Faith and Development in the Philippines
[Date Created: June 5, 2013]

by Tony Meloto
Speech at Fondacio International Congress
Transylvania, Romania
May 16, 2013

"Papa, don't forget to bring lots of garlic."

This was an emphatic piece of advice I received from my 5 year old granddaughter Chloe as I was saying goodbye to my family for the trip to this global faith congress.

Well, I texted her Mom this morning not to worry because I'm staying in this beautiful Orthodox monastery in the Carpathian mountains in Transylvania with powerful Christian leaders from 20 countries whose blood does not taste good to evil spirits.

To start, I am here for several important reasons, which more than justify the fact that my travel is longer than the 24 hours I am staying in this place:

To return the favor for the visit of your three top leaders Ignacio, your past President, Francois who is your newly elected President and Charles, your Asian connection to the Enchanted Farm in November last year to understand our concept of a Farm Village University and see proof of a sustainable community;

To forge a global partnership between Fondacio and Gawad Kalinga, starting in the Philippines;

For Fondacio to consider Manila as the venue for their next international congress;

To invite Fondacio to send delegates to our Social Business Summit on October 2-5, 2013 in the Philippines.

Like all of you, I am a pilgrim going through this life in search of purpose, meaning and hope. At 63, I'm past my prime but unrelentless nevertheless in my determination to build a better world for those I will leave behind.

So I will be very personal in my talk about faith that unites us, not about the practice of religion that divides the world, causes conflict and perpetuates poverty. This is about my journey to discover for myself  the power of faith to end poverty in my homelandthe biggest and for the longest time, the onlyChristian country in Asia. The Philippines is a resource rich country that does not have an excuse to remain poor. Poverty is an indictment as to how badly many of us practice our religion and I have made it my mission to help ease injustice and suffering as the most effective way to pass on my faith to my children. There is no problem with my Christ or my Church that hosts his spirit, but there is a problem with me being credible to my family, community, country and the rest of humanity if I do not follow a path of love and humility at the heart of my Christianity.

While my focus is about growing the faith in Asia where Christianity is a small minority, I hope we can draw shared experiences and common lessons and gain inspiration and strength from one another to thrive in a fast changing world. Besides what happens in Asia will affect all of us economically, politically...and even spiritually, as the vast region constitutes more than half of the world's market and where most of the emerging economies come from, including my country the Philippines.

Sharing the GK story in the Fondacio International Congress


Christian stewardship is about faith and development, how to address the tension between the two and how to strengthen one with the other:

How to prosper a poor nation with faith and how to grow faith as a nation prospers;

How to create wealth in capitalist markets anchored on social justice and social entrepreneurship;

How to combine compassion with competence and character to seek more profit for the greater good.

In our country, we have 12 million hectares of arable fertile land yet 18 million of our people are considered food poor; 99% of our dairy products are imported and we get 85% of our chocolates from countries that do not grow a single cacao tree when the Philippines has the best climate to produce the best chocolate beans; 12 million Filipinos are abroad making rich countries richer, taking care of rich families while enduring separation from their own. A few ultra-rich families dominate our economy. We have obviously not practiced Christian stewardship of our fertile land (including vast tracts of unproductive land owned by the Church), rich natural resources and resilient people.

Our situation is similar to other former colonies in South America and Africa where religion played a vital role in perpetuating a colonial, mendicant and dole-out mentality that kept them poor. On the other hand, faith was the only comfort and salvation for the weak and powerless. Even here in Romania, I see a country with rich natural resources and hard-working and intelligent people struggling to rise from a past of religious and ideological persecution and oppression that have kept the masses poor. No wonder the story of Count Dracula was blown out of proportion. When people are poor they cling to God and the supernatural for help.

I took this faith journey with Gawad Kalinga (or GK) to find my soul as a Filipino and a Christian, hoping to build a prosperous country that honors God, restores the honor of my people and bring many of them home to our new land of opportunity.


And things are starting to look up in the Philippines: the economy is rising, investments are flowing, tourists are coming. But the challenge remains: how to bring development down to the masses so the squatters will have decent homes, the idle will have jobs, the land will yield abundance so no one is left hungry. The biggest challenge in a developing economy is how to prosper without making money our god. With money as our master, we can buy pleasure but lose our soul and, ultimately, our happiness and peace.

My path towards poverty eradication is simple:

Walk my talk. Stay grounded. Work with the rich to prosper the poor. Save the poor to save the rich.

First I must learn to see my poor neighbor as family, not merely an object of charity, cheap labor or a thief in the night. Second I must see my country as home, not a place I'm stuck with as an accident of birth.


Being my brother's keeper is a genuine expression of my Christianity. It is therefore my highest priority to learn how to see everyone as brother and neighbor, not as enemy, victim, prey or object of pity if I am to create a conducive space for productivity and peace to flourish.

As family, the poor deserve from me the commitment of my time, talent and treasure to help restore their dignity and capacity for productivity. Slums breed diseases and criminals, while hunger is a major cause of conflict in rural areas. I must expand my definition of family to include criminals and rebels to lessen the threat to my biological family.


I must see dirty slums and dangerous rebel territories as home and make them safer for everyone.

In Bagong Silang where Gawad Kalinga began in 1996, we worked mostly with gang members, drug dealers, juvenile delinquents and out of school youth, particularly the men. Most poverty interventions focus on women and children who are often victims of poverty and abusive men in the home and the community. The criminals, drug addicts and rebels are mostly men but many social enterprises like micro-finance have difficulty dealing with them. If we were to end the vicious cycle of poverty, we have to find an effective strategy to also include the men as part of the solution. How?

1. Get them to do things that use their skills and interest and develop their self-respect and self-reliance, like building homes and farming.

2. Give value to their sweat equity in place of money because those in extreme poverty have no regular source of income.

3. Give them regular values formation to develop their community spirit and deepen their faith.

4. Enter into a covenant for good citizenship no drunkenness, drug use, gambling for the sake of their family and community.


So far we have built over 2,000 Gawad Kalinga villages that nurture over a million beneficiaries including neighboring communities through our programs for land ownership, shelter, health, environment, livelihood, education, values formation and volunteerism. Our goal is to help 5 million families out of poverty by 2024. This is something that we cannot do by ourselves but it is important for us to simply show that it can be done deliberately... and... if we do it together.

There are more communities now being built by other organizations following our template and spirit of multi-stakeholder partnership. Many shelter programs of our national and local government units (LGUs) and community-building projects of corporate foundations and other NGOs for calamity and war victims are starting to do it the GK way.


There is no doubt in my heart that we can achieve our 2024 target because I have witnessed many miracles of solidarity in my incredible faith journey in this past decade since we launched Gawad Kalinga in 2003 to claim the Philippines as our Promised Land. I continue to discover the power of faith and the greatness of the human spirit by daring to challenge the seemingly impossible. The master key for us that unlocks many closed doors is the will not to give up on the poor or to allow our dream for our country to die.

The good news is that many want positive change. The overwhelming support to our cause shows clearly that many are tired of poverty and conflict caused by corruption, greed, selfishness, fanaticism and discrimination. Parents like me do not want our children to inherit a decaying planet the way it is.

Another good news is that the old world is actually changing. Those of us who come from Third World countries no longer want to remain weak and helpless. My country which languished at rock bottom for decades due to a slave mentality is starting to wake up and rise with other emerging economies.

I'm hopeful that we can start to help each other like what is happening here in Fondacio. The world now is more connected, more enlightened and more transparent because of science, technology, travel and greater access to information.

We must listen to the genius of the poor and work with the idealism of the young to create a more compassionate global economy.


The challenge is how to put faith into action beyond habit and tradition.

Religion today cannot be anchored on fear or guilt or dogmatic self-righteousness but on spirituality that builds our humanity through caring and sharing. We must make it clear to the new generation that love of neighbor is love of God a concrete evidence of the reality and presence of God on"earth and in heaven." Preaching about heaven in the afterlife may sound hollow to the young if we allow God's people to live in hell in this life.

As Christians, our master-plan had to come from the Master-builder, who was born a squatter and raised by a carpenter.

Our nation-building strategy of creating sustainable GK villages was inspired by the early Christian communities described in Acts 4:31-35. "God's community of believers was one heart and one mind...they shared their resources with one one was in need."


My children learned early about the power of hope in transforming ugly and dangerous slums into beautiful and peaceful communities though caring. It was about hope that they could build, touch and see village after village, town after town. Lives were being transformed before their eyes idle men building homes, hungry children being fed, the homeless being sheltered.

They also discovered that there is enough for everyone through sharing as described in the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes. Landowners shared their land, business donated material resources as part of their corporate philanthropy and social responsibility, government built roads and water systems, while the poor beneficiaries gave labor as their sweat equity. Gawad Kalinga created the platform for volunteerism, community building and the spirit of giving as a solid foundation for a solidarity economy.

My children learned generosity early by sharing their father with the homeless and the hungry. My wife supported me by being a mother, literally and symbolically, to the orphans and abandoned children who came under our wing.


To build a nation, patriotism with faith in God attracts the young who have the energy and creativity for social innovation and change. They can learn from the wisdom and mistakes of our generation...that there is no dichotomy between nation-building and kingdom-building...but they need the freedom to make their own mistakes and learn from them. They need fathers and mothers in us who will encourage them to dream for our country not overly protective parents who kill their idealism and stop them from exploring their potential for greatness.


We are currently building the first of 25 Enchanted Farm Village University sites at Angat, Bulacan, an hour by car from Metro Manila, as the incubator of social business start-ups and destination for social tourism. Our target is to raise 500,000 social entrepreneurs by 2024 in all our farm village university sites.

The place is a venue for public private partnership, convergence of business and management schools with agriculture and science to raise agri-entrepreneurs and collaboration of impact investors with micro-finance to develop the entire value chain.

Our immediate target this year is to train 3,600 farmers in 5 towns around Angat to become farmer-entrepreneurs in partnership with Department of Agrarian Reform, Department of Environment, Shell Foundation, Hyundai, Human Nature, Lifebank and Accenture. This is complimentary to our initiative to encourage young graduates from top business schools to consider social business as another career path. Impact investment will flow to the Philippines if we make our country an attractive hub for social entrepreneurs producing the best natural and healthy products that do not contain toxic chemicals to feed the world.

It has also become home and business incubators to many interns and innovators from Europe, North America and Australia who are seeking new career and business paths in Asia as social entrepreneurs.

This is coming at a time when our honest and competent President Benigno S. Aquino III has gained the respect and trust of the global community for his unwavering fight against corruption and turning our economy around  in just three years of good governance.


To achieve our dream, lofty idealism must be matched with enlightened pragmatism.

*Raise more wealth creators at home, not just job seekers abroad.

*Raise more producers of ethical products using local labor that pay just wages and indigenous eco-friendly raw materials not just consumers of luxurious foreign brands.

*Raise more social entrepreneurs, poverty-busters  and nation-builders, not just professionals, profiteers and politicians.

*Start this in the Philippines, bring the model to other developing countries.

In spreading the faith, go for the low-hanging fruits starting with our children. It would be foolish to think of evangelizing far-flung countries if we cannot even get our children to believe in us.

My four adult children today are all passionate social entrepreneurs and practicing Catholics. Two of them Anna Wilk and Camille Meloto were chosen by Ernst & Young, Schwab Foundation and World Economic Forum as Social Entrepreneur of the Year in 2012 for their innovative natural personal care and cosmetic products under the Human Nature brand. Anna, the mother of my granddaughter Chloe, does not carry garlic for protection but produces more natural shampoo to help coconut farmers in Iloilo and organic bug spray from citronella farmers in Bicol to ward off lice and mosquitoes...and superstition... that come with poverty.

Our children will be the first to see and follow our path if we walk our talk.

To end, allow me to show you a video of our beautiful country rising from the ashes and some daring social entrepreneurs who have taken the leap of faith to bridge the poverty gap and hasten our ascent to sustainable prosperity.

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